Whatever good or evil may have transpired during the last four years, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that democracy has survived in our country, though in a battered and bruised state. Adventurers experimented with a variety of systems of government, but each had a common denominator - that of public representation in one way or the other. The military dictators never recovered from the guilt of illegitimacy at dismissing civilian governments, feared their limitations and knew the importance of people’s support to extend their rule. So, they wooed the courts to extract judgments to purify their regimes and their own conscience, and innovated ways to rally public participation. The people, however, always had the last word as they took to the streets in widespread agitations and toppled their regimes when they could bear them no more. It is the people who accepted them with the expectations for a better life and it is them who threw them out when their hopes were dashed.

We have a history of a 10-year cycle - army rule that invariably progressed into a façade that bore some resemblance to democracy, followed by elected political governments. It is ironic that the two elections, considered to be as fair as possible in our social structure, were conducted by dictators - one in 1971 by General Yahya Khan and the other by General Pervez Musharraf in 2008, while none of the elections conducted by political regimes have ever been free of allegations of widespread rigging and manipulation. The military regimes were allowed longer grace periods by the people than the political governments that could not inspire their confidence for too long.

Moreover, the army regimes have been the nurseries of politicians for most of the present breed of politicians that became the torchbearers of democratic principles, for either convenience or conviction.

Democracy is broadly defined as “legislative form of government in which all citizens of a nation together determine public policy, laws and the actions of their state.” Our successive establishments, whether military or political, have claimed to pursue this principle, none too convincingly. We inherited the parliamentary form of democracy from the British, in which people elect politicians to represent them in Parliaments and to make decisions in the public interest by a majority vote. Our Parliaments were quickly hijacked by a few landowner families and some vested interests. Together with bureaucracy and army, they and their extensions have created an elite group that has controlled the destiny of our nation assuming immense authority by virtue of their nuisance value. The general public, unfortunately, is excluded from the process of making any policies, laws and actions that impact their lives directly in our prevalent democracy, having surrendered its rights to the representatives it elected.

The actual interest of the voting grassroots people is at the local level, which is the centre of their existence where they need patronage, civic amenities and conveniences that can be provided by the local governments. Since the parliamentarians need to retain their vote bank for the next elections, they must make their presence and influence felt in their constituencies. As a consequence, the transfer of power and financial independence to the local governments has been resisted by the parliamentarians, who monopolise the allocations and disbursements of local development funds. The handling and direct control of large amounts of funds and the power to grant favours by the misuse of authority have grown to be too intoxicating to relinquish. Due diligence to legislation, which is their primary function, descends on the ladder of priorities. Local development works, wheeling and dealing in major contracts and land grabbing becomes the favourite occupation to be executed in a hurry before the time is up. Our land that is impoverished otherwise never ceases to possess endless avenues of financial corruption, favouritism and irregularities for some.

The current establishment boasts about the longest-serving Prime Minister and a host of revolutionary legislations through consensus of all political parties. All constitutional amendments, however, sailed through without any meaningful debates or interaction with the public; the members mindlessly raising their hands under the command of their leaders or not even showing up for the voting. These amendments neither correlate to the macroeconomic or social progress of the nation, nor are they likely to have any impact on the daily lives of the common man. No consensus of the provinces could be developed on the construction of Kalabagh Dam, whose completion could serve as a lifeline to our agriculture, hydropower and the construction industry. For instance, the project was abandoned to take the ANP on board for political expediency. It seems that personal survival has been misconstrued as synonymous to national interest and service to democracy. A policy of following the path of least resistance has been followed, which has left major difficult issues of national importance simmering at the backburner.

Furthermore, the rebel Baloch sardars have been totally sidelined and left out in the cold. Apparently, no sincere efforts were made to end their isolation and bring them into the mainstream, since they had no electoral strength. No worthwhile incentives, except for the announcement of the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package, were offered to persuade them to enter into a dialogue to resolve their grievances. The resource-rich province of Balochistan remains grossly underdeveloped and its people that constitute a variety of ethnic groups remain deprived and ignored yet once again - this time by a democratic government. Some say, a volcano is waiting to be erupted there and no one is pushed.

Democratic values are ingrained in our people, who are politically-enlightened and keen to exercise their rights. However, the political structure has been tailored to create two distinct classes of leaders and workers - that do not converge. The political spectrum is dominated by landed feudals that express deep concerns for the welfare of the people, but, in actual fact, keep them oppressed in the lands that they lord over. The cost of running an election campaign has been escalated to such high proportions that it is prohibitive for ordinary folks even to think of contesting at the state level. The system is founded on the basis of lies, as the electoral candidates file their expense returns and the Election Commission accepts them both fully aware of their being bogus. The votes in the upper house are blatantly bought and sold, and the parliamentarians are openly offered bribes to support a bill.

The people of Pakistan have lacked the capacity and will to guide the democratic process and bring changes in the system. They are being fooled by a change in the faces. Democracy does exist, but it is crumbling in the present social structure in which a labourer, a farmer or any ordinary citizen with modest means cannot aspire and succeed to lead. It has fallen in the hands of people whose mindset is dictatorial, short-sighted, and devoid of ideology or service to the nation. We appear to have lost sight of realities, despite our sufferings, mass killings, extremism and grand larceny of our vast resources. The public is undergoing a sort of punishment for its naivety and the lack of courage to stand up and demand what is due to them.

The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.

Email: k.a.k786@hotmail.com